Last update - 08:05 17/05/2009
Amira Hass / Israel bans books, music and clothes from entering Gaza
By Amira Hass
Israel allows only food, medicine and detergent into the Gaza Strip. Thousands of items, including vital products for everyday activity, are forbidden.
Altogether only 30 to 40 select commercial items are now allowed into the Gaza Strip, compared to 4,000 that had been approved before the closure Israel imposed on Gaza following the abduction of Gilad Shalit, according to merchants and human rights activists.
The number of items changes according to what is determined by The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories. COGAT has refused the PA representative's request for an updated list of the items permitted into Gaza in writing, and passes the information only via the telephone.
Gaza merchants are forbidden to import canned goods, plastic sheeting, toys and books, although the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other aid organizations are permitted to bring them into the strip.
The few items merchants are allowed to trade in are divided into three categories: food, medicine and detergent. Everything else is forbidden - including building materials (which are necessary to rehabilitate Gaza's ruins and rebuild its infrastructure), electric appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines, spare machine and car parts, fabrics, threads, needles, light bulbs, candles, matches, books, musical instruments, crayons, clothing, shoes, mattresses, sheets, blankets, cutlery, crockery, cups, glasses and animals. Many of the banned products are imported through the tunnels and can be found in Gaza's markets.
Pasta, which had been forbidden in the past, is now allowed, after U.S. Senator John Kerry expressed his astonishment at the ban during a visit to Gaza in February. But tea, coffee, sausages, semolina, milk products in large packages and most baking products are forbidden. So are industrial commodities for manufacturing food products, chocolate, sesame seeds and nuts. Israel does allow importing fruit, milk products in small packages and frozen food products as well as limited amounts of industrial fuel.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that during the first week of May, 2.2 million liters of industrial fuel - some 70 percent of the weekly supply required to operate the power station - was allowed into Gaza. UNRWA receives petrol and diesel supplies separately. A daily 270-300 tons of cooking gas - 54 percent of the required amount - is allowed.
Petrol and diesel for private cars and public transportation have not been imported from Israel since November 2, 2008, except for a small amount for UNRWA. The union of Gaza's gas station owners estimates that some 100,000 liters of diesel and 70,000 liters of petrol are brought through the tunnels daily.
Egypt, which in the past two months has been restricting the trade movement through the tunnels, does not limit the supply of gas and fuel. But since Egyptian fuel is heavier than Israeli fuel, it damages the newer cars in Gaza and causes malfunctions.
In the past, Israel allowed wood for home furnishings to be brought into Gaza for some time, but not wood for windows and doors. Now Israel has resumed the ban on wood for furniture.
The ban on toilet paper, diapers and sanitary napkins was lifted three months ago. A little more than a month ago, following a long ban, Israel permitted the import of detergents and soaps into Gaza. Even shampoo was allowed. But one merchant discovered that the bottles of shampoo he had ordered were sent back because they included conditioner, which was not on the list.
Five weeks ago Israel allowed margarine, salt and artificial sweetener to be brought into Gaza. Legumes have been allowed for the past two months and yeast for the past two weeks. Contrary to rumors, Israel has not banned sugar.
COGAT commented that, "The policy of bringing commodities derives from and is coordinated with Israel's policy toward the Gaza Strip, as determined by the cabinet decision on September 19, 2007."
A COGAT forum convenes with representatives of international organizations weekly to address special requests of the international community regarding humanitarian equipment and the changing needs of the Palestinian population, the statement says.